Dipping my Toe in the Public History Pool

Public history is all the rage these days in history programs.  To my eye, the interest in public history is an effort within the discipline of history to connect our work with a recognized group of jobs as archivists, public historians, and at museums.  On the one hand, this is good in that it recognizes that many of our students want to stay in the field of history, but do not aspire to academic positions.  On the other hand, this is part of a larger vocational trend in the humanities that we probably need to monitor.  While there is no reason not to embrace programs which hold forth the prospect of employment for our students, history as a discipline would be weaker if preparing future public historians became the dominant goal of history departments. 

In any event, since our department is looking to get more serious about its offerings in public history, I thought I’d make an effort to see how my work in Greece and Cyprus could contribute.  So in 2010, I am going to offer a small internship program in public history.  Below is a very, very rough fact-sheet on this graduate level internship.  As you can see, many of the details are to-be-determined, but I think it captures the core of what I’d like my internship to do. 

Public History Internship
SP2010

The goal of this internship program is to provide an opportunity to gain experience with a wide range of digital and new media applications that are becoming increasingly central to public history, museum management and outreach, archival work and archaeological curation.

This work will focus on a number of ongoing and completed archaeological and historical projects and tools.

1. Topos/Chora: The Photographs of Ryan Stander. This is a series of photographs and related essays from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. The photographs will appear at the Empire Theater for the month of January and then in an online gallery. They will be accompanied by a series of reflective essays written by the archaeologists who participated in the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. The goal here is to have something up on the web by January 15th and the gallery available for viewing by January 30th.

2. Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project: A Digital Museum. Since 2003, a team under the direction of Scott Moore, David Pettegrew, and me has been working at a site called Pyla-Koutsopetria on the south coast of Cyprus. This project has produced a vast amount of digital data ranging from video to podcast, photographs, text, descriptive data, maps, plans, illustration, quantitative data, et c. The goal of the Digital Museum is to present some subset of this data in a coherent way for the educated public. We have Omeka, online museum software, installed on a university server. This software can provide the base for our online museum.

3. Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project: Data Curation. One of the most important aspects of any archaeological or museum work is the responsible curation of all forms of data. PKAP has recorded a substantial amount of both digital and paper data over the past 7 years. This data needs to be curated. The paper data must be prepare to be deposited in the university archives and parts of the digital data, to be uploaded to Open Context for digital publication. In many ways this curation project is the flipside of the project 2.

4. Lakka Skoutara: An Early Modern Site in the Eastern Corinthia. Since 2000, David Pettegrew and I have recorded descriptive and photographic data from the early modern site of Lakka Skoutara that documented the changes at this site as a result of a whole range of abandonment practices. These photographs need to be put together with textual descriptions in a way that is useful to scholars. This archive will become the online companion piece to a published article.

5. Ohio Boeotia Project at Thisvi, Boeotia. Over the past two years, I have slowly been digitizing the results of an intensive pedestrian survey project conducted between 1979-1982 around the village of Thisvi in southeastern Boeotia. It would be excellent to report the results of this project in a transparent way or to develop an online environment where this work can be highlighted and made accessible.

Goals and Priorities: To some extent, I will let you imagine a set of priorities for this list of tasks, and I certainly don’t imagine that you’ll get all these done. On the other hand, I expect that early on, we as a team develop some sense of priorities in how we plan to attack these various projects. It is important to emphasize that public history projects are almost always collaborative. That is to say that people work together to accomplish a particular task. We are going to work together as a team to accomplish the goals listed below.

Assignments and Responsibilities: Since this is an internship, I will not have a major writing or reading assignment. You should plan to dedicate 10 hours a week to working this internship. I will insist on weekly 1 hour meetings. These will include status updates and are not optional. In addition, you will be expected to maintain a public blog detailing weekly how the various projects are progressing. The goal of the blog will be both to keep you honest (as a team) and to make the progress of the various projects underway transparent to the various stakeholders both at the university and elsewhere. I will expect each participant in the internship to contribute a single blog post a week. It might be best to blog on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. The first assignment will be to select a blogging service.

Resources:

1. Digital and New Media Laboratory. At present we have a single PC, a Linux powered laptop, and a gaggles of very powerful Macintosh computers. Time in the laboratory should be negotiated with the various other users.

2. Published and unpublished reports from Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, Ohio Boeotia Project, and Lakka Skoutara (which was a part of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS)).

3. People. Consider me, my various colleagues, and folks on campus potential resources. When in doubt, ask questions. Part of a successful public history project is knowing how to get the information that you need.

Some websites:

http://omeka.org/

http://www.pkap.org/
http://mediterraneanworld.typepad.com/pylakoutsopetria_graduate/
http://mediterraneanworld.typepad.com/pylakoutsopetria_season_s/
http://mediterraneanworld.typepad.com/pylakoutsopetria_undergra/

http://mediterraneanworld.typepad.com/
http://mediterraneanworld.typepad.com/the_archaeology_of_the_me/2009/10/between-sea-and-mountain-the-archaeology-of-a-20th-century-small-world-in-the-upland-basin-of-the-southeastern-korinthia.html
http://mediterraneanworld.typepad.com/the_archaeology_of_the_me/thisvikastorion_archaeological_project/

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  1. December 14, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Bill,
    While I will be likely unable to take the class (even though it would fit wonderfully into my Public History minor), I would very much like to assist with this in whatever way I can. I am more than happy to serve as a guest speaker during weekly meetings to talk with students about interning at a museum and interaction with the public, if you desire. Let me know how I can be of assistance to you in this course. Have a great break if I do not see you this week.
    Daniel

  2. Dallas
    December 15, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Bill,
    I did something like this the last two years through the Classical Arch. Museum here. I only had one student in each class, but I let each get a feel for the place and decide what to work on. Mainly it came down to some work on our displays, dissemination of info to the public, some research on our collection, etc. One student this year is working on our CYpriot pottery (unofficially). Anyway, it was a good experience, I think, for the students, me, the Museum and the department. We really got some useful stuff from the work of the students.

  3. January 11, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Hi Bill,
    You write, “history as a discipline would be weaker if preparing future public historians became the dominant goal of history departments. ”
    I should think that preparing students to communicate with the public about history would only strengthen the position and standing of history…?
    Just a thought.

  4. January 11, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Shawn,
    All I meant by that sentence is that history departments are probably still obligated to teach the core disciplinary methods for historical analysis rather than the application of those methods to communicate historical knowledge to a broader public. In other words, teaching history broadly construed (as a means to teach various “transferable skills and discipline specific methods) rather than simply focusing on preparing public historians.
    Narrowing our focus to study on particular group of methods would run the risk of limiting the applicability of a history degree and moving it from among core courses of the humanities to a more marginal, and frankly vocational, position. After all, there are a limited number of public historians in the US at any given time. History majors who receive a broader exposure to historical methods have the basic skills to go one to study law, enter business, become public servants, or even go on to study history at the graduate level as well as work as public historians.
    Is that more clear?

  5. Hubert
    August 11, 2010 at 3:51 am

    For those not taking that class, but would like to start playing with museum and archival standards, creating object data etc. http://www.collectconcept.de (CollectConcept) is a free online tool which supports a variety of standards and can be used for free..

  1. January 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm

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